SPOKANE-- The first weekend in June you can go out to Felts Field and view one of the most famous planes of all time, a B-17 Bomber.
On hand for its arrival Thursday was Don Hayes, a man who has intimate knowledge of that plane and how it helped end the war against Germany in World War II.
It called the Flying Fortress, a World War II B-17 Bomber, and for those at Felts Field, like Don Hayes, a lot memories flood back.
The retired Air Force major was just 18 years old when he left Spokane and headed to Italy to enter the war. He was a Top Turret Gunner on the B-17, sitting between the barrels of two 50-caliber machine guns. "Our guns fired 750-rounds a minute and I had one right next to each ear. Didn't affect my hearing though."
His very first mission was to bomb the Germans in Vienna. "We had a rough one. We went all the way to Vienna and back and over the target. We were briefed that there were 400-anti aircraft guns there." But intelligence was wrong, there were 1600 anti-aircraft guns protecting the Germans. "You’re flying in a black cloud and you find that there's some turbulence there and when the shells explode next to you there's a lot of turbulence. If you can hear the explosion you're too close."
He heard a dozen explosions inside the wing tips of his plane. They were confident and had a great group of U.S. Fight planes escorting them. A famous group. "We were protected in every flight by the Tuskegee Airmen."
Despite the protection, the casualty rate was horrendous. Every time they took off they knew many would never return. “Usually every mission there's be two or three planes go down and a lot of those guys would end up in POW camps. There were a lot of casualties of people wounded in the planes.”
About 50,000 were killed in a two year span.
On one mission, flak shot out one engine, a second engine over heated and stopped, and a third was giving them trouble. “We called in fighter escort and as I said the Tuskegee Airmen escorted our bomb group. And two P-51's came in and got right under our wing tips and they touched each wing and just rocked us a little bit." Just to let the crew know, they'd be okay.
He came back to Spokane after the war, went to work, and stayed busy for decades and then he decided to finish up his college at age 80. "And about five years ago I went back and got my degree. 53-years late.”
He wrote a book about the harrowing stories of the B-17 Bomber, titled Splendor in the Skies.
He signed and presented copies of his book to the b-17 crew at felts field. His thanks to them for keeping his memories still flying.
You can tour the B-17’s Friday June 1st through Sunday June 3rd. For $475 you can also fly in one. For more information click here (www.b17.org) or call (920)371-2244.